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NORMAL - Justin Fuente has ended his long and successful association with Illinois State football coach Denver Johnson.

Fuente, an ISU assistant coach the past six seasons and the Redbirds' offensive coordinator the last three years, has taken a position as the running backs coach at Texas Christian University.

"I have known coach Johnson for a long time through a lot of stages in my life," Fuente said. "I met him when I was in high school, and I played for him when he was an assistant and again when he was a head coach.

"We had a year apart and then we were together when I was a young entry-level coach all the way up to now. Not only have we had a good relationship, but we have had a relationship that is always changing. Our relationship has really grown over the years, and I owe a lot to the Johnson family."

Under Fuente's guidance, the Redbird offense has ranked in the top 10 nationally the past two seasons. Fuente also mentored ISU quarterback Luke Drone, a first-team all-Gateway Conference performer.

"The Redbird offense is in capable hands," Fuente said. "(The offensive coaches) know what they are doing and each has played a major role in the success that we've had over the last couple of years. I expect it to be a seamless transition, but it's going to be a hard for me to leave those guys. We spent a lot of time together, and I can honestly say we are all good friends."

With Johnson on the University of Oklahoma staff, Fuente set a then-freshman school record with 11 touchdown passes for the Sooners in 1996. When Johnson became the head coach at Murray State, Fuente followed and became a standout signal-caller with the Racers. He was the Ohio Valley Conference's Offensive Player of the Year in 1999.

Hired as Johnson's quarterbacks coach in 2001, Fuente was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2004.

In three years, 13 individual season school marks and seven season team records have been set. The Redbirds led the Gateway in passing offense each of the three seasons in which Fuente called the plays.

During 2005, the Redbirds averaged a league-best 477.5 yards per game, which ranked No. 5 nationally, and averaged 39.2 points per game. Last season, ISU's total offense ranked No. 8 nationally with 397.5 yards per game.

Johnson said losing Fuente is like saying goodbye to a son.

"There is never a good time to lose a great coach," Johnson said. "I have known Justin for a long time, broke him out in this business, and I have always thought very highly of him. I've always told my staff that part of my job is to help them advance in their career.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for Justin to do just that. Although I hate to see him go, I'm excited for him. He's going to a great program with a great coaching staff in a great town (Fort Worth), and it will be an exciting new chapter in both he and Jenny's life."

Fuente and his wife, Jenny, the former associate head volleyball coach at Illinois State, weighed the decision.

"Moving is never easy and leaving a place like Illinois State is especially hard," Fuente said. "Especially when you are leaving a program that is on its way to the top. Jenny and I have a lot of ties to the Bloomington-Normal community, and I wasn't going to leave for just any deal. It had to be something pretty special to get me to leave Illinois State. I'm really going to miss the players, the coaches and the community."

Johnson is now down two offensive coaches. Line coach Greg Laffere left for a similar position at Florida International last month.

The Redbirds longest tenured offensive assistants are wide receivers coach Brad Cornelsen (hired in 2003) and tight ends/H-backs coach and assistant head coach Jim Williams (hired in 2004).

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